"So tell me about her—your wife." Amanda had been sitting in silence as Rush made quick pencil notes in a small spiral bound notebook. She was fascinated by his hands moving with almost hummingbird-like swiftness as he scribbled equations likely only he could find legible. He'd been at it for 10 hours straight—reading, then scribbling, back to reading, stopping only to push his eyeglasses back to the bridge of his nose or to call for a refill of his dwindling French press coffee pot. And that was only today—a fourth day in row of the same routine.
Telford and Jackson had tried prying him away from the work, introduce him around to people he'd now be working with on a daily basis, take him to lunch, and later to dinner—anything to get him to take a break—all to no avail. They'd not known if he'd even left when finished for the day, they presumed not—from his disheveled appearance.
Rush finally looked up, Amanda's words rocked him, sending a chill through and around his spine and into his shoulder blades. "What?" The single word dripped challenge, laying down an impenetrable barricade; his glare unmistakable, a cold laser boring into her. She almost turned her chair around and fled from the Spartan office. Instead she approached closer moving further into the room from the doorway where she sat observing him work.
"Your wife. Tell me about her—about her life. She must have been extraordinary to wrest you from your work." Amanda smiled, gesturing with her eyes to the pile of books and papers strewn about his desk, covering every surface. Rush blew out a breath, the tension in his arms and shoulders giving way as he slumped back into the leather armchair, hands going to his eyes involuntarily trying to stem the grief threatening to pour forth uncontrollable. He tried to speak and found the words stuck in his chest. No longer cold, his eyes shifted as they locked into hers, now pleading with her to not make him speak. Not now.
Her gaze was too kind; if she only knew, he thought. He didn't deserve kindness; he didn't deserve the compassionate gaze of this beautiful, courageous young woman, who observed him so keenly, so intently. He had to look away. He tried going back to his notes, pick up his train of thought, but found his mind scattered into shattered shards, broken as he was. He closed his eyes, trying to find respite in his mind. He felt her next to his chair, the whirring of Amanda's high-tech wheelchair now silent. "It would help," she ventured, "I think… I mean… Maybe you'd…"
"No, it really wouldn't. Look. I'm sorry, but I'm really quite busy." Somehow he found the words, the strength, to be abrupt when all he wanted was to collapse into his own despair and never to emerge. He quickly turned his attention back to his notepad.
Daniel had sent her—a last ditch effort to wrest Rush from his office, get him to stop. He knew the corrosiveness of this path Rush had started. It was toxic and it only led downward in quickly accelerating spirals. Daniel had seen Rush almost relax in Amanda's company, it had, at least, seemed worth a shot.
"Dr. Rush." He looked up again, annoyed; she hadn't left after all. He sighed, irritation plain in his tight expression. "Look. I can't begin to know how you feel. I hate it when…"
"When what? When people give you that pitying look that presumes to have a clue about anything? I imagine you've gotten that look enough to make your skin crawl any time anyone opens their mouth. But you have no idea—at all—what… You think it's loss and grief, and that it is. But…" There was no point explaining, he thought trailing off. She wouldn't understand the corrosive eating away at his soul. She wouldn't begin to grasp what he would give to have back these last weeks—change them, instead of seeing Gloria die over and over again every time he drifted off to sleep, reaching for his hand and finding nothing but emptiness in her last hours.
Rush cleared his throat, trying to regain his composure. "Dr. Jackson told me that you've managed to decode some of the Ancient drive architecture. I'm wondering if any of that might assist me with the Ninth Chevron problem?"
Amanda smiled beatifically, a blush reddening her cheeks. "That it might Dr. Rush. But it's nearly time for dinner, and I'm starving." She said more boldly than she felt about inviting such a renown (and attractive) scientist to dinner. She held her breath.
Rush smiled slyly, perhaps for the first time in months. "You drive a hard bargain, Dr. Perry. Well, I can't guarantee you that I'll eat much of anything…"
"At least it will pries you away from here for a few hours. There's a great restaurant about a mile from here. Are you staying in the area?" Nicholas looked down. He wasn't presentable enough to go to the cafeteria, much less out of the complex. "No. I…I'm at the Shoream…in D.C." Not that he'd actually been back to his room in days.
Amanda recognized discomfort when she saw it. His clothes were more than rumpled; his light scruff of two days ago when she'd last seen him was closer to a full beard. He'd obviously showered; he smelt of the citrus bath gel found in the base shower facility dispensers.
"Do you mind if I might change my clothes?" he asked slightly embarrassed. "They're a bit… I have a…" he surveyed the corners of his office searching for his old leather duffel. "Ah. There." In better times, Nicholas dressed well, even expensively—bespoke, fine leather. He had three tuxedos hanging in his closet back in San Francisco: symphony galas, the opera, awards ceremonies; they were well used. He hoped he'd at least packed an entire set of clothes in the duffel, and not omitted anything crucial.
The locker room was empty. He washed his face in the sink, trying to eradicate the fatigue from his eyes, from his head. He looked up into the mirror. The dark smudges made his large dark brown eyes almost unnatural—deep black sockets, empty, like a skull's. "You're a wreck, my dear." Nicholas jumped, startled at the voice echoing just behind his left shoulder.
He glanced back, knowing he'd see no one there. But there she was when he turned back to the mirror, standing behind him. He shuddered, trying to blink Gloria's image from his consciousness. "You're going to kill yourself at this pace, you know. But perhaps that's the point?" A rhetorical question.
Nicholas whispered her name just as the door opened. "You alright, Dr. Rush?" He nodded absently at the air force officer.
"Yeah. Fine. Just washing up a bit." Nicholas heard the shower faucet turn behind him before he looked again into the mirror, heart pounding. She was gone. He glanced at his trembling hand, deciding after all, not to shave. He dressed quickly, and exiting the locker room. Amanda was waiting near the elevator.
"You're looking a little better."
"Little being the operative word, I'd guess." She shrugged. That, she thought, was a matter of opinion. He wasn't just attractive, she realized. There was something quite elusively beautiful about him. And dressed now in a long loose-fitting collarless shirt, black jeans and a leather waistcoat, especially with the beard and his long hair, he looked more unrepentant hippie than college professor. It was all she could do to not to sigh.
This was a man, she needed to remember, who was suffering terrible grief over his wife's death—and he wasn't doing well with it. He needed a friend, even if he wasn't aware of it—someone who could maybe get him to talk, to cry, to begin to deal with sorrow. Daniel had tried, but, as he'd told her, maybe she would be more successful in drawing him out before he self-destructed.